Sunday, November 17, 2019

Lest we forget


Obituary from the June 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard
Yet another old comrade, Jimmy Dowling, died suddenly in the latter part of March. He joined the Glasgow Branch in the early 1930’s and despite many vicissitudes never relaxed his adherence to the socialist case. Only those who knew him intimately could appreciate his solid grounding in the Marxist classics. An omnivorous reader, he specialised in the philosophical aspects of historical materialism. Unfortunately, he never became a speaker or writer. Nonetheless, everyone will remember him for his quiet caustic wit and his undying hatred, based upon understanding, of capitalism.
Tony Mulheron

The only path is revolution

The Socialist Party has fought the good fight since its foundation, and will fight it again and again until at last the co-operative commonwealth shall be established and the red flag flies over all lands. Now the time is ripe for the working class to move on to a different system of society.

Capitalism is an uncontrollable economic system which will bend neither to the wishes of politicians nor to the opinions of experts. To live under capitalism is to live for some other purpose than our own fulfilment, as Erich Fromm recognises. We strive and suffer, not to grow more fully ourselves, but to amass figures on a screen somewhere. Our lives only have meaning, and our needs will only be met, if someone else can extract some value from us. To live is to be used. Capitalism can be seen as a big abstract parent, telling us what we can’t have, punishing us for not being good enough. In the face of this system, our deepest needs have to be set aside as we try to satisfy its endlessly changing demands. Perhaps our acceptance of such a punitive social system is merely our replaying in a different form our punitive childhoods.

Capitalism or socialism, this is no longer a debating issue of the future, it is a life and death issue for so many of our fellow workers around the world. And on which we ourselves may be facung with the on-coming climate catastrophe. There is no going backwards. There is only going forward to the socialist future. The old ideas of progress of the old reformist Labour Party which sought to win advances for the workers within capitalism has ended. Capitalism maintains its profit solely on the basis of lowering and worsening the standards of the workers. The crisis is not a crisis of natural scarcity or shortage. Harvests are abundant. Foodstuffs are rotting in the warehouses, or are being burnt. Stocks of goods of all kinds are piled up, unsold. Millions of workers are willing and able to work; but existing society has no use for their labour. The crisis is a crisis of capitalism alone.

The power of producing wealth is greater than ever. It has grown far more rapidly than population, thus disproving all the lies of those who talk of “over-population” as the cause of the crisis. Although capitalism does not use more than a portion of modern productive power, although it wastes most and deliberately cuts down and restricts production in order to increase profits, actual production has grown much faster than population. More foodstuffs. More raw materials. More manufactures. More power. All increasing beyond the rate of increase of population. And the outcome? It would seem natural that the outcome should be greater abundance for all. But what is the result to-day under capitalism? The result is mass impoverishment and lowering of standards. Why? Because capitalist monopoly cannot organise production for use; because the growing discord between ever-greater capitalist accumulation of wealth on one side and growing poverty on the other, makes impossible the use of more than a diminishing proportion of the rising productive power. Every advance of production only intensifies the ferocity of capitalist competition for the market.

Would-be reformers of capitalism (including the Labour Party) urge that if only the capitalists would pay higher wages to the workers, enabling them to buy more of what they produce, there would be no crisis. This is utopian nonsense, which ignores the inevitable laws of capitalism — the drive for profits, and the drive of competition. The drive of capitalism is always to increase its profits by every possible means, to increase its surplus, not to decrease it. Individual capitalists may talk of the “gospel of high wages” in the hope of securing a larger market for their goods. But the actual drive of capitalism as a whole is the opposite. The force of competition compels every capitalist to cheapen costs of production, to extract more output per worker for less return, to cut wages. Just as in America, where the “gospel of high wages” was most talked of to conceal the real process of capitalism at work (intensified output from the workers, with a diminishing share to the workers.) All the leaders of capitalism, economists, financiers, politicians, are at sixes and sevens.

Who would have thought that cheap and abundant supplies of all the basic commodities should find the science and civilisation of the world unable to utilise them? Had all our triumphs of research and organisation bequeathed us only a new punishment “the curse of plenty?” (Churchill: Romanes Lecture, 1930.)

There are voices crying out to know how a world can produce so much food that people starve, and so many manufactured goods that people go without. Any attempt to organise the growing productive power to meet human needs is a question that does not even enter into their heads because it cannot arise within the conditions of capitalism. Capitalism has no solution. Only socialism can bring the solution. Only Socialism can cut through the bonds of capitalist property rights and organise production to meet human needs. Once capitalism is overthrown, then and only then can production be organised in common for all, and every increase in production bring increasing abundance and leisure for all. This is the aim of the Socialist Party. Only the organised working-class can drive the capitalists from possession and organise social production.
“But these inventions and discoveries, which supersede each other at an ever-increasing pace, this productiveness of human labour, which increases day by day at a hitherto unheard of rate, finally creates a conflict, in which the present capitalist system must fall to pieces. On the one side, immeasurable wealth and a surplus of products which the purchasers cannot control. On the other, the great mass of society proletarised, turned into wage workers, and just on that account become incapable of taking possession of that surplus of products. The division of society into a small over-rich class and a large propertyless working-class, causes this society to suffocate in its own surplus, while the great mass of its members is scarcely, or, indeed, not at all, protected from extreme want. Such a condition of things becomes daily more absurd and unnecessary. It can be abolished; it must be abolished. A new social order is possible, wherein the class differences of to-day will have disappeared, and wherein — perhaps, after a short transitional period, of materially rather straitened circumstances, maybe, but morally of great value-through the systematic use and development of the enormous productive forces already in existence (with equal obligation upon all to work), the means of life, of enjoying life, and of developing all the physical and mental capabilities, will be at the equal disposal of all in ever-increasing fullness.” (Engels: Introduction to Marx “Wage-Labour and Capital,” 1891.)

Marx and Engels wrote in the nineteenth century, this is still the theory to hold  by.

Saturday, November 16, 2019


Letters to the Editors from the February 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Comrades,
It was a pleasure to read your article on “The Politics of Class War”. The subject was dealt with very sympathetically and I hope that any members of the CWF who happen to read it. take up your offer to discuss their views further.

Although the article stated that the CWF attracted the attention of the tabloids down South, I had never heard of them or seen any reference to their organization in the Scottish Press—although, admittedly, I am out of touch with political affairs.

Nonetheless, their viewpoint as stated in your article seemed familiar. About fifty years ago when 1 was active in working class politics, there was a European organization—I think they called themselves “Council Communists" or Spartacists (I can’t recall which)—whose literature was sold by a Glasgow organization the "Workers Open Forum”. The “Open Forum” was just that—an open forum which provided a platform for all shades of working class opinion. Every Sunday evening workers could go to the Open Forum and hear speakers from the SPGB. the SLP, the ILP, the CPGB, the Anarchist Federation, the RCP and the Labour Party. Its committee also organized debates between the various organizations mentioned. Literature from these organizations was sold at all these meetings. As you will appreciate there was little opposition from the “Telly" in those days and the meetings were well attended.

It was at these meetings that I obtained the literature of the Council Communists and, speaking from a somewhat snaky memory, I recollect that their views were similar to the CWF. The exponents of their case that I most remember were Anton Pannekoek, a Dutch astronomer, who dealt with philosophical and scientific matters, and Paul Mattick who dealt with economics. I remember them mostly for their articles in the Western Socialist.

I further recollect that they organized a meeting, either in Paris or Amsterdam, to which the SPGB was invited as an observer. The Executive Committee of that time (some forty or so years ago) declined the invitation. At the time I thought the EC were mistaken in their attitude but I can no longer remember the arguments.

Can it be that the CWF are the modern counterparts of the Council Communists? Whether they are nor not, I hope that your invitation to a dialogue is taken up.

Bob Russell

As far as we know there is no direct connexion between the Council Communist group you mention and Class War— Editors.

Let us work towards the cooperative commonwealth

The Labour Party in action has been making state capitalism, not socialism.  It abandoned the class struggle and became a social reform movement, occupied by parliaments and legislation, a movement for government ownership and the extension of the functions of the State generally. The Labour Party struck compromise after compromise, made concession after concession to placate the ruling class and to secure the support of non-socialists. It relegated the fundamentals of socialism to fancy speeches of a faraway future. The Labour Party has become a fetter upon the revolutionary development of the working class.

The Socialist Party is a class party. It frankly admits that as a political organisation is but an expression of class interest. It exists for the sole purpose of representing the producers of wealth, that is to say, the working class. The Socialist Party, with its clear cut and understandable discussion of the class struggle is the political expression of the dispossessed class.  it alone holds out any hope of liberation from the rent, interest, and profit wage-slavery. Representing, as it does, the working and dispossessed class of the state, and having for its program the abolition of the exploitation of the workers through rent, interest, and profit, there can be no compromise between the Socialist Party and the political expression of the owning class of the State. It will be satisfied with nothing less than the common ownership and democratic management of the means and instruments of production and distribution.

 Our fellow-workers may well be at the present time reactionary or apathetic, but if they cannot be won for socialism then socialism itself is impossible. It is for us to do all in our power to win them; to place no obstacles in their way; to sympathise with and support them even in the pettiest struggles in which the class war involves them; until they recognise that their work is futile unless its object is emancipation. The Socialist Party must become and maintain itself as the independent and autonomous representative of revolutionary socialism against all contenders. For this reason may be seen the necessity for rejecting any form of alliance with other parties, nor the acceptance of any reform programme, other than that of revolutionary socialism

Our goal is the abolition of poverty by the establishment of a socialist cooperative commonwealth. Socialism is a theory of a system of human society, based on the common ownership of the means of production and the carrying on of the work of production by all for the benefit of all. In other words, socialism means that the land, the railways, the shipping, the mines, the factories, and all such things as are necessary for the production of the necessaries and comforts of life should be common property, just as our public roads, our public parks and our public libraries are public property today, so that all these things should be used by the whole people to produce the goods that the whole of the people require.

Workers when they become socialists do not become different from the rest of the working class. Their change in thought is an evidence of gradual transformation in the working-class movement. They remain of the workers, struggling with them for emancipation. The progress of socialism is governed by the advance of socialist thought among the workers. The Socialist Party of to-day cannot bring socialism. The co-operative commonwealth will be inaugurated by the mass action of the workers. Steadily the workers move along the road to socialism. Circumstances compel them to take that path. Economic laws operate whether they are known or not, but if we understand their operation we can bend them to our purpose and assist society along the course it tends to travel. The Socialist Party must bring this knowledge to our fellow-workers.

The necessity for political action is taken for granted. Whenever the power of the governing class asserts itself, then the workers must fight. The State is the political expression of the dominant class, and since that dominant class uses the machinery of the State—law, justice, coercion—to maintain its own privileges and to impose its will upon the toiling masses, the workers contest their claims by political action. The reason why some socialists participate in the every-day struggle in the industrial field, and yet decline to take a part in political action, is that they regard industrial action as more important than political. That belief is without justification.

Let us hasten to usher in the era of peace and plenty. Wage-slavery will then be but a horrible memory.

Peace between the peoples! War against the exploiters!